Last week, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said her goodbyes at a departure ceremony and party. Merrigan announced she’d be leaving the USDA last March for reasons she didn’t publicly declare.

Obama Foodorama covered the ceremony and said, “she managed to turn her departure into the announcement of a new initiative, ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Flowers.’” You may recall that one of Merrigan’s first initiatives at the USDA in 2009 was “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food,” a push to support local agriculture.

At the ceremony, Merrigan was surrounded by flowers grown in Washington, California, and Maryland, and she “urged people to buy from U.S. growers.”

There isn’t much information about "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Flowers" yet. I can’t find anything on the USDA site, but Obama Foodorama has a little information about the initiative’s inception.

The initiative came after long work from the California Cut Flower Commission, which has also been lobbying the White House to use American-grown flowers, too. The White House sources from abroad for many of its blooms.
I think this is the perfect time of year “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Flowers” to take off. As seasonal farmers markets begin to open, many of them have vendors who sell local flowers. Feel free to ask vendors questions about their flowers, especially about their growing practices. How you ask makes a difference, though. Here are a few tips.
  • Ask where the flowers are grown. Just because the flowers are at the local farmers market doesn’t mean they’re grown locally.
  • Ask open-ended questions like, “What sustainable practices do you use when you grow your flowers?” This will allow the grower to share all sorts of information with you and start a conversation instead of just giving you a quick yes or no answer to a question like, “Do you grow your flowers organically?”
  • Ask when the flowers were picked. If your market opened at 8 a.m., don’t expect the grower to say, “this morning.” That’s unreasonable. Within the last 24 hours is a much more reasonable answer.
  • Offer to take the flowers as-is, instead of having them wrap the flowers in plastic or tissue paper that you’ll probably just rip off and throw in the trash when you get home.
  • Understand that if you’re going to buy local, seasonal flowers, the varieties will be limited and change every few weeks. However, you’ll find that you end up bringing varieties of beautiful, fresh flowers into your home that you may never have discovered if you simply went to a flower shop that stocks only the most well-known flowers.
When you buy flowers, do you consider if they’re grown locally? Do you have any tips for getting fresh, local flowers?

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Do you know who farms your flowers?
The USDA wants Americans to "Know Their Farmers, Know Their Flowers."